Category Archives: Debating Society

Rolf Mayne Neill

Rolf Neill was the only son of Harold and Louisa Neill of 22 Eldon Road, Kensington, London. He was born on 7th February 1898 and arrived at the school in September 1911.

He represented his house – Ashburnham – in Football, and eventually captained the Westminster 2nd XI by the time he was in his final year.

He was a member of the school’s Debating Society. On Thursday 9th March 1916, he seconded the motion “that in the opinion of this House it is inadvisable for Great Britain to attempt reprisals for air raids.” He is recorded in The Elizabethan as arguing:

“…we had already attacked fortified towns, but reprisals would be the attacking of unfortified towns. Taking reprisals would only cause competition with the Germans, and make them more ‘frightful’ than ever. Also we have no aeroplanes to spare.”

In February 1915, he enlisted as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 3rd Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers, and was attached to the machine gun corps the following December. He left the school in April 1916 to join the Royal Flying Corps (Special Reserve) as a 2nd Lieutenant, and he became a Flying Officer with them in August.

In September 1916, he joined a Sopwith Squadron on the western but was only out there for a couple of months before being invalided home. He was able to rejoin his squadron in March 1917, but was killed in action near Messines on the 3rd June 1917.

His obituary in The Elizabethan reads as follows:

Mr. NEILL, the only son of Mr. Harold Neill, of Kensington, was at the School from September 1911 to Easter 1916, and was second Monitor in Ashburnham. He left School to join the Flying Corps, and after some meritorious and successful service, fell within the German lines. Our own generation mourns an excellent fellow.

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James Montague Edward Shepherd

19170215_Shepherd,JMEJames Montague Edward Shepherd was born on the 2nd December 1895. He was the only son of Montague James Shepherd and Therese Louise, daughter of V. Cazabon, of Paddington.

He was admitted to the school in April 1910, and started off in Home Boarders, but switched to Grant’s at the beginning of Play 1911.

He elected to take the ‘Modern’ subjects instead of the ‘Classics’, and was an active participant in the Debating Society. In March 1914 he argued, alongside R. R. Turner, that “the man of science is of more use to the community than the man of letters” — a motion that was lost by 10 votes to 9.

He earned himself a Shooting Pink in 1912-13 and was made Captain of Shooting. In Election Term 1914, according to The Elizabethan, he “won the Brinton Medal with the fine score of 61; considering the wind, it was a praiseworthy performance”.

His behaviour at the school was not wholly positive, however, as the Grant’s House Ledger records in 1914:

“A distinctly unpleasant incident occurred at the end of this term, when Shepherd who had been ragged a good deal during the term, suddenly lost his temper and broke Hodgson’s jaw. As it was considered to have been done in a fit of blind rage and with no premeditated malice, no steps were taken and the matter was allowed to drop. Hodgson’s Jaw next term had completely recovered.”

Shepherd left the school in 1914 “desirous of entering the Royal Flying Corps”, and matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge. In January 1915, he enlisted as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 15th (Service) Battalion Rifle Brigade and went out with them to the western front the following September. He was promoted to Lieutenant in November 1915, and then to Captain a year later. He achieved his aim of joining the RAF as a Flight Commander R.A.F. on the 6th December 1916.

He was reported missing in action at Bixschoote, near Ypres, on 15th February 1917 at the age of 21. By July, he had been confirmed dead.

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Stephen Arthur Herbert Codd

19160909_Codd,SAHStephen Codd was the only son of Arthur and Florence Codd of West Hampstead. He was born on the 24th October 1891, and was admitted to Homeboarders House as a non-resident King’s Scholar in 1905.

He was a keen public speaker, regularly participating in the Debating Society. On 17 February 1910, Stephen argued in favour of Vivisection: he “fluently demonstrated what benefits had been conferred upon mankind by vivisection, and indulged in some rather gruesome detail.”

In his final year at school, he won first place in the Orations — a public speaking competition — and was commended for his “sweeter voice” and was “word perfect” in the final performance of a passage from Isaiah predicting the fall of Babylon.

Stephen left the school in July 1910, and entered the office of the High Commissioner for South Africa, Herbert, 1st Viscount Gladstone. However, after three years, Stephen decided to take holy orders, and went to King’s College London, where he gained the Wordsworth Latin Prize in the Intermediate B.D. Exam, in 1914.

In September 1914, he enlisted in the Universities and Public Schools Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, and was made 2nd Lieutenant, 11th (Service) Battalion, Gloucestershire Regt in the December of that year. He was attached to the 7th Battalion and went out to Gallipoli on 24th September 1915. That November, Gallipoli was hit by a great blizzard; Stephen suffered from frostbite and was invalided home.

After his convalescence, he went out to the western front on 24th August 1916, where he took part in the attack at High Wood. The plan was to use tanks later on in the month, and Stephen’s regiment was preparing the way by attempting to penetrate into the German trenches. Stephen was the only officer of his battalion to succeed in doing so, but he was never seen again.

In June 1917, the King’s College Review quoted a letter that Stephen’s Colonel wrote: “The regiment attacked on the 9th and your son gallantly led his men into the enemy’s lines but were driven out by superior numbers. Your son was last seen at the head of his men… he was a brave splendid officer and at once made himself popular with his brother officers and men.”

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Archibald Keltie Gilmour



Archibald Gilmour was the eldest son of the barrister Thomas Gilmour and his wife Elizabeth of Hampstead. He was born on the 21st July 1892 and arrived up Grant’s in January 1906.

Gilmour was involved in all kinds of activities within the school community. At the Play Supper in 1908, he was called upon to perform a song, and gamely gave his rendition of ‘A More Humane Mikado’ from the Mikado. On another occasion, in January 1909, he was spotted creeping into breakfast “somewhat late in felt slippers!”

He was elected to the Debating Society in Play 1909 and in the October of that term, they met to discuss the recent claim made by Dr Frederick Albert Cook (1865-1940) that he had reached the North Pole on 21st April 1908. Gilmour opposed the motion, pointing out that Dr Cook had set off with insufficient provisions and that, according to two men who accompanied Cook, he had “never killed any game, never went out of sight of land, and returned with his sledge load of provisions intact”. The motion was lost by 8 votes to 7.

After leaving the school in July 1911, Gilmour joined Balliol College, Oxford. He was admitted to the Middle Temple in April 1913.

In the August of 1914, he enlisted in the London Scottish. The following month, he was made 2nd Lieutenant in the 7th (Service) Battalion, the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, and was stationed at Bordon, Hampshire. He was promoted to Lieutenant in February 1915, and sent out to the western front in June 1915.

He was wounded during the Battle of Loos, and was invalided home. By the end of September 1915, he had been made Captain. Between January and March 1916, he undertook home service with the 9th Batt. King’s Own Scottish Borderers at Catterick, Yorkshire. He attended a company commanders course in March 1916, before returning to the front in April 1916, re-joining the 7th Battalion. He served as a company commander in the Somme Sector, a role he found stressful, as he reveals in a collection of letters and papers that is now held in the archives at the Imperial War Museum.

On the 15th August 1916, in the trenches between Fricourt and Bicourt, Archibald Gilmour was hit by a shell fragment and died at the age of 24.

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Roland Gerard Garvin

The only child of James Louis Garvin, editor of The Observer, Garvin attended Homeboarder’s House from 1908-1914. At school he was a talented fencer, winning the Public Schools Foils Championship at Aldershot in 1913. He was an active member of the debating society, speaking for the motion ‘this House deplores the modern tendency to vegetarianism’ and against a motion welcoming ‘the building of a Channel Tunnel’ according to The Elizabethan ‘pacing to and fro in oratorical frenzy, [Garvin] spoke grimly of financial loss, and said the expense would be unjustifiable’. He took part in play readings, although it was noted that when he recited an extract of Henry VIII he was ‘too low in pitch and too melancholy’.

He was going up to Christ Church with a History Scholarship when the War broke out, and he joined the South Lancashire Regiment. The Elizabethan records that

‘He was killed in the Battle of the Somme on the night of July 22 during an intense bombardment, in which he gave a noble example of courage, resourcefulness, and coolness, and even after he was hit his one message was ‘ to carry on with the Company.’ Although somewhat reserved, his personality made an unusual impression on those with whom he came in contact. By his death a life of literary promise is cut short.’

The British Library holds a diary which Garvin kept whilst at the front. As a Captain, Garving was in charge of D Company of the 7th Battalion South Lancashire Regiment. On 20 July he recorded the company as having a fighting strength of three officers, six sergeants and 109 men in other ranks. The company was stationed near Bazentin-le-Petit in preparation for the attack on High Woods, which formed part of the Somme Offensive.

The British Library note that:

‘The diary extract shows the monotonous nature of life in the trenches. Captain Garvin records the detail for Friday 21 July starting at 4am with stand to and the cleaning and inspection of rifles. The soldiers spent the rest of the morning cleaning and improving their trenches with a break at 8am for breakfast and lunch at 12.30pm. In the afternoons they were allowed to rest. On the following day Captain Garvin noted down the formation and objectives of the company’s assault against the enemies’ forces. This was his last diary entry as Captain Garvin was killed by machine gun fire during the attack at 11.30pm that night.’

┬® From the Garvin archive, British Library, Add MS 88882/9/58
┬® From the Garvin archive, British Library, Add MS 88882/9/58
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William Horace Vere Nelson

19160708_Nelson,WHVWilliam Nelson was the only son of Peter and Gertrude Nelson, of Mayfair. He was born on the 11th November 1895 and was admitted to the school as a King’s Scholar on the 23rd September 1909.

William was a member of the debating society. On one occasion, he opposed the building of a Channel Tunnel: he “very properly dealt with the matter from a military standpoint, and thrilled the society with blood-curdling calculations as regards military matters” [27 November 1913]. And on Thursday 12th February 1914, he seconded the motion “that in the opinion of this House the risk to human life involved in exploring uninhabitable countries is not justifiable”, arguing that “there was no reason why anyone should want to go to the South Pole again now that it had been discovered. He ÔǪ argued that the fact that these regions were inhabited in the past was of very little interest to most people, and they were not likely to be habitable again for a very long time”.

William was strong academically; when he left the school in 1914, he was awarded a Triplett Exhibition for three years, a value of ┬ú20. He was also a keen sportsman, coming second in the 1914 One Mile Open Challenge Cup and competing in school gymnastics. “W.H.V. Nelson is a good gymnast and was last year very nearly good enough to represent the School. On this occasion [Inter-House Gymnastic Competition, 23 March 1914] he was a little below his usual form and made several unexpected mistakes.”

In the September after he left the school, William joined the 11th Battalion Sherwood Foresters as a 2nd Lieutenant. He became Lieutenant in July the following year and was attached to the 10th Battalion.

In November 1915, he went out to the western front where he was wounded twice. He died on the 8th July 1916 of wounds he had received in action at Fricourt, Somme.

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